Service animal measure passes state Senate

A bill that would make it a civil violation to falsely present an animal as a service animal passed the state Senate on Tuesday and now moves to the House.

Senate Bill 2461 would make the act of knowingly and falsely claiming an animal to be a service animal punishable by a fine. The measure is aimed at curbing a recurring problem of people bringing animals into unauthorized locations by claiming the animals provide necessary support for a disability.

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In particular, the bill makes plain the distinction between service animals — dogs trained to assist owners with disabilities — and emotional support animals or comfort animals — any untrained animal that provides an owner companionship, typically referred to as a “pet.”

The bill unanimously passed a third reading in the Senate.

The penalties the bill lays out would range from fines of $100-$250 for a first offense, and $100-$500 for a subsequent offense. Such penalties are less severe than an earlier draft of the bill, which would have made the offense a misdemeanor.

Public testimony regarding the earlier draft of the bill was presented during a hearing before the Senate Committee on Judiciary late last month. The majority of that testimony was in support of the bill.

One of the only voices in opposition was the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission, which opposed potentially criminalizing disabled people requesting to be allowed to live with an emotional support animal. The Judiciary Committee subsequently amended the bill to reduce the penalty.

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Two other bills relating to the issue were deferred last month.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com